UPDATE: On March 26, Colorado issued a Stay At Home Order. I strongly urge readers to follow recommendations of the city of Denver and avoid travelling to the mountains for the time being. Instead, take time to explore the nature in your local communities! Read More.
Over the past two weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has captured the attention of the nation and world. With the number of infections growing rapidly, public health authorities are encourages citizens to practice social distancing to protect at-risk communities. It’s led many of us in the mountaineering ask, ‘how does COVID-19 impact 14ers, hikers & climbers?’ While I’m no public health expert, I am a student of public policy, and a pretty good researcher. Here’s what I’ve found to provide guidance around coronavirus and 14ers in this pandemic.
First, What is ‘Social Distancing’, and What isn’t it?
To begin, let’s clarify the difference between ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-quarantine.’ Social distancing refers to the practices of avoiding close contact with others to prevent the spread of potential disease. These are practices that everyone should be using, regardless of whether they believe they are sick. On the other hand, ‘self quarantine’ refers to the near-isolation that people must embrace who suspect or confirm they are ill. If you or anyone believes they have COVID-19, or confirm it via testing, they should self quarantine immediately. This means staying at home, and not climbing or hiking, even if you stop showing symptoms, until your doctor or other professionals clear you.
Social Distancing: Stay 6 Feet from Others.
In the sources I’ve come across, there’s no clear information specific to 14ers. However, there are a few expert sources that give us a hint. The first is the best resources overall: The official COVID-19 Pandemic website from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). They have information on social distancing best practices, and there’s a notable absence of any information about outdoor recreation. However, given a review of their materials, these key guidelines stand out above all others:
- Avoid crowds or large events.
- Try to maintain 6-feet from others for prolonged periods of time.
- Stay home if you think you or someone close to you may be ill.
- Wash your hands repeatedly & correctly.
The second relevant source is a ‘Do’s & Don’ts’ Guide from The Atlantic you can find here. In this case, several experts on Infectious Disease Control suggest that exercising outdoors is a healthier, safer alternative to working out in a gym. In other words, now might be a better time than ever to get outside for a hike through the woods, or up a mountain.
My Advice: Hike Locally, With Precautions
Considering this information, it seems that hiking and climbing 14ers may present a safe way to limit exposure risk while combating ‘stir craziness’ that is going to develop inevitably. However, this is only for locals – the recent orders to stay at home suggest local recreation is best. The key isn’t whether you hike, but what precautions you take to follow the CDC guidelines above. Here’s a few things to consider when thinking about coronavirus and 14ers:
- Pack and bring food from home, to avoid stopping for snacks.
- Bring a partner, but avoid large groups of hikers and climbers.
- Pick less popular peaks and trails (Great time for 13ers)!
- Hike during less popular times, like early morning.
- Step off-trail to allow others to pass with a wider margin than normal.
- Take extra precaution while hiking and climbing to ensure you don’t further burden the healthcare system. Limit yourself more than you normally would.
- Cough and sneeze in your elbow, wash hands, and bring hand sanitizer.
- Stay home if you believe you or someone you’ve been in close contact with is ill.
Coronavirus and 14ers: Check your local guidelines.
The biggest issue today remains uncertainty: as the situation changes, guidelines and best practices will as well. Always check the local condition in your area. Look on your county health department website, or that of the US Forest Service for the national forest or wilderness area you’re interested in. If travel or leaving the home ever becomes discouraged, it’ll be better to stay where you are. Ultimately when it comes to coronavirus and 14ers, the mountains will be there tomorrow!